The recruiting splash witnessed by BYU’s new basketball coach and staff won’t mean squat if newcomers fail to mesh with returning veterans.

That’s the big challenge for every school in the era of NIL and the transfer portal.

It can be one of the biggest challenges in college sports these days.

Without chemistry on a team, you’ve got the possibility of agenda-driven, strong-headed one-on-one players that can lead to untold drama and that can unravel a squad.

Early on this summer, there are reports out of Provo that the mix is working.

Most of the team is assembled and have been working out together for more than a week.

Veterans Fouss Traore, Trevin Knell, Dallin Hall, Richie Saunders, Trey Stewart and Dawson Baker are melding just fine with Elijah Crawford, Mawot Mag, Brody Kozlowski and Kanon Catchings.

Then, on Wednesday, just as everyone was adjusting to each other since Monday, Russian Egor Demin flew in and began working out with the rest of the guys. Demin can play every position all the other guys have been working on as they try to find a role. It’ll be interesting to see who fits where.

Former Cougar guard and EuroLeague player Jonathan Tavernari has been working out with BYU players this summer. His workouts have been separate from what BYU’s team does when the NCAA allowed the Cougars to assemble. It was more of an outside camp deal. I asked for his take on Crawford, an incoming freshman point guard who previously had committed to Stanford.

“Elijah might be the shiftiest, quickest and smoothest guard BYU has ever signed out of high school,” said Tavernari.

“His game reminds me a lot of Elijah Bryant’s. He’s a bit shorter than Bryant but his 1-2 step and change of direction combined with this athleticism and explosiveness is going to be a sight to see. I’m very good friends with Kevin Boyle from high school powerhouse Montverde and coach KB was mightily impressed that BYU got that type of talent. That’s the Kevin Young effect.”

Tavernari said the effort and commitment he’s seen from returning players Knell, Hall, Stewart and incoming freshman Kozlowski has been impressive. “I’m proud of their hard work and honored to be able to help them however I can.”

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Former Stanford assistant coach Brandon Dunson told the “Y’s Guys” podcast this past week the veterans’ attitude toward new Cougars recruits has stood out during initial team workout sessions.

“They are just great people, obviously they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t,” he said. “I think it has been really cool to see how the team has been able to gel together pretty quickly on and off the court. That doesn’t happen everywhere. I think we have guys who are aligned the same way and think in similar ways.”

Dunson said it wasn’t exactly a surprise because of the type of players on the roster, but it was very satisfying to see the integration taking place with the new and old.

It would be natural for Hall to feel threatened by Demin’s time at the point, or have Knell worry about his minutes if Demin moved over and played some shooting guard or small forward. Baker could be tied up in knots as to how he’ll fit in since he didn’t get a real stretch of playing time last season because of a foot injury and surgery.

Then there’s Traore. He’s a solid post player, albeit a little undersized. Utah transfer Keita will challenge his minutes unless Traore finds some time as a power forward alongside him.

Both Demin and Catchings are versatile enough to challenge for multiple positions and Crawford’s quickness and attack skills off the dribble are unique enough that he’s got to find playing time from Hall. Saunders and his energy tick must find minutes in doing his thing on both ends of the court, but at whose expense?

BYU coaches have emphasized that their NBA-style five-out offense will diminish the need for labels such as point guard, shooting guard, small, stretch or power forward. In other words, roles will be interchangeable with who can execute the pick-and-roll and deliver off screens.

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Comments

This will be an interesting puzzle to see come together in Provo.

It is hard to remember a summer where so many talented pieces have been brought in to meet and greet with so many veterans who had key roles in a season that saw the team finish No. 5 in the Big 12.

It will be interesting to see reports of how Demin fits in this week.

Stay tuned.

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